The circle is primal symbolism — encoded in our psyches, if not in our genes. To a two-year old picking up her first box of toddler-sized crayons, a circle is the shape of the shining sun and the heads of Mommy and Daddy. Mommy, Daddy, and the Sun are her cosmos; ideally, they encircle her being in the same way that 12th century holy woman, Hildegard von Bingen, envisioned the “Godhead” embracing all within its arms.
We might distinguish between that cosmic circle’s center and its circumference. Joseph Campbell speaks of a model of the psyche where the hub or center of the wheel is the still point — our Self, that aspect of our being that is constant and eternal. As astrologers, we see the Sun as our nucleus, or our center, which embarks on the archetypal hero’s journey about which Campbell spoke so eloquently.
When looking at a circle, the eye is naturally drawn to the center, literally the “center of gravity.” Carl Jung referred to the “individuated Self” that can be seen as the solar “center of gravity,” which gradually draws us in throughout the labyrinthine course of life.
The circumference is where the planets, as the various agents, or “ego fragments,” of the Self are busy, scattered and diffused, as they play the roles demanded by our daily lives. It’s always great when these characters we harbor within are team players that pull in the same direction, but how frequently does that happen? We are a multitude, and things tend to get messy; ideally, over time these characters are integrated within our core Solar being, but it’s a lifelong process.
We can envision the circumference as being where our Solar selves gain awareness and wisdom from our interactions around the wheel of life. Astrologically, this wheel encompasses the entire solar system, and our evolution is driven by how well we internalize its lessons over time, lessons that are delivered via planetary aspects, transits, and progressions.
In a natal chart, it seems that the Sun and its planetary system create an evolving, dynamic web of energy exchanges or relationships within the human psyche — between our ego fragments (on the circumference) and our Higher Self (at the center). Ideally, our inner “team” gradually learns to pull together around a strong, coherent center.
This web of relationships amounts to an archetypal “hero’s journey,” as Campbell and the ancients he studied characterized it in tales like Homer’s Odyssey, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and Le Morte d’Arthur, describing King Arthur’s quest for the “holy grail.” Ideally, our personal epic journey ends where it began, by bringing our ego fragments home, integrating them finally into a sense of greater harmony and wholeness, a state of WYSIWYG: “What You See Is What You Get!
Importantly, we often explore these mysteries by journeying into the farthest reaches of our personal universe, the “Otherworld” of Neptune and Pluto. (1) Whenever Neptune features powerfully in a transit (especially to our Sun or so-called personal planets), in progressions, or even in a nativity, its influence tends to overwhelm our awareness and become our perceived “reality.” These dynamics operate on all levels, personal to collective: as we learned this past election season, Neptunian confusion, distortion, illusion, and outright deception are powerful weapons.
Under Neptune’s influence, we acquire a pair of filtered lenses that can dominate the “forest of our minds” in wildly different ways, from drug abuse and victim consciousness to compassionate service, from delusional obsession with conspiracy theories to a creative/artistic renaissance.
Extending Hildegard’s analogy, it seems that we feel “hugged” by the spirits conjured up for us by Neptune because they weave a comforting narrative into our lives, like a parent does when reading a bed-time story to her sleepy child. What do we dream, imagine, or believe? How do we envision our role in this cosmic fairy tale? What, if anything, does it all mean? These tales are drawn from our personal and collective unconscious and told by Neptune in the language of allegory and symbolism. The tales are key to our solar evolution, but there are dangers.
Neptune demands surrender and immersion in those tales, as any artist who’s made the journey through addiction into a second-chance career knows. It promotes that immersion by overwhelming our structured mental, physical, and spiritual defenses (Saturn is Neptune’s nemesis), but Neptune’s methods are quite different from Pluto’s: Pluto ravages, purges, and reduces us to essentials with its sheer chthonic force; Neptune seduces, wearing away our resistance, like waves lapping a rocky mental shore.
Emotion is a valued tool in both Neptune’s and Pluto’s kit, and it coalesces their force in disastrous ways at times. Our Plutonian survival instincts trigger a range of emotions that, with Neptune’s help, cascade through our body-minds like a feverish epidemic: fear and insecurity spawn hyperbole, irrationality, hatred, and outrage, in worst cases culminating in hysteria and mob rule. These dynamics operate on all levels, from tragic personal meltdowns to regrettable collective episodes.
Even recent history is filled with examples, from the internment of Japanese-Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor to the rise in hate crimes against minorities after election 2016. The tone of political rhetoric matters, and to deny the observable consequences of Trump’s rhetoric is the Neptunian equivalent of a battered spouse covering up for her Plutonian abuser. The “truth” is whatever a Neptunian mind wants it to be; add Pluto’s quest for “power over” to that distortion and the results are insidious.
With Saturn’s input, Pluto takes us back to basics, reducing our lives to the primal level of sheer survival; after a long bout with cancer, survivors often claim to feel incredibly alive, with new focus and purpose. Pluto has stories to tell, only these stories are told around the archetypal “Cauldron of Life” (there’s a reason Scorpio rules the 8th house and Pluto), and the themes are reliably fixed: that birth, death/transformation, and regeneration are one indivisible, scalding “brew” that feeds all Creation, from the microscopic to the astrophysical. (2) Nature is “red in tooth and claw,” and violence begets violence. (3)
For its part, Neptune breaches our Saturnian structures — including the principles and narratives that hold our public institutions together — and we rarely see the resulting changes in ourselves, in our relationships, our communities, or in the larger collective until those structures crumble around us. In keeping with the proverbial “frog boil,” Neptune’s spirit only gradually overwhelms, but at a certain critical threshold, it unleashes the deluge. By the time the hapless “frogs” realize their cozy warm bath is getting dangerously hot, it’s too late to leap out of the pot.
There’s a reason the 12th house and Pisces (naturally ruled by Neptune) are associated with chronic conditions, mental health issues, and institutions like hospitals, prisons, and spiritual organizations (churches, mosques, etc.). Neptune does indeed take prisoners, and in return it offers a glimpse of life beyond the Saturnian earth plane. Whether that context is positive and healthy is not always clear because it is subject to Neptune’s seductive “spin.”
In all fairness, however, we shouldn’t underestimate Neptune’s redemptive potential — probably the main reason its energies seem aligned with Christian and even pre-Christian dogma. The sacrificial lamb is a potent Christian image, but its genesis falls well before the Christian era. The “gods” were jealous, demanding, haughty, and vindictive in ancient times, and people sacrificed their finest, most valuable goods — in some cultures, even other people — in return for continued life, fertility, and prosperity.
The Great Deluge, a cataclysmic event recorded by many ancient cultures and mythologies, imprinted on humanity for all time that the gods will destroy Creation if we fail to keep them happy. Ironically, we’ve been far more likely to destroy ourselves, and if there’s to be an equivalent 21st-century cataclysm, it won’t happen in one 40-day inundation. It will simply continue the climate degradation that’s been going on for decades.
At some point, if this destructive process is not halted and reversed, the proverbial dam will simply wash away (Neptune), allowing devastation to cascade through the environment. If the Earth’s riches and ability to sustain human life are the sacrifice our contemporary gods are after, we need to find new gods.
This belief that sacrifice renders salvation runs almost addictively deep in the human psyche, so it’s hard to see how this concept distorts our responsibility for protecting the Earth. The major religions promise some version of salvation in a future “afterlife,” and for some believers, these Neptunian promises amount to a divine “reprieve” from that responsibility. Why bother if it’s all up to God, the “endtimes” are upon us, and this isn’t the real Paradise after all? Saturn’s appreciation for reality on this plane (enshrined in today’s beleaguered sciences) gets lost in the Neptunian fog.
In my observation, when we succumb to Neptunian addiction or Plutonian “tooth and claw” cynicism — or when we choose to chase an illusion rather than to care for what’s real, physical, and present — we are scattering our “ego fragments” to the wind and falling out of touch with our core Solar being. Whether it’s our digital age, our stressed working lives, the 24-hour news cycle and a constant state of being “on call” technologically, many seem to be struggling with an inability to feel rooted and centered. It’s impossible to find a direction forward if we don’t know where we are.
With all the doing out there on the circumference, we risk losing track of being itself. Perhaps it would help to stop occasionally, reel our many fragmented selves inward, and renew our solar, back-to-basics perspective. Our natal Sun placements offer deep wisdom if we pay attention and follow the bread crumbs from point to point. They all mean something in the end: we are not just a sign, or an inventory, of the scattered roles we play in the world: we are a being with a story to tell. Enjoy!
(1) The Otherworld is a term used in Arthurian legends to denote that mysterious, challenging world “out there” where the hero journeys, proves himself, and seeks the Holy Grail. See John Matthews’ The Arthurian Tradition, Element Books Ltd., 1994 U.S. printing, Rockport, MA, p. 16-17.
(2) The “Cauldron” and the “Cup” were used interchangeably in Arthurian legend to mean a “sacred vessel which contained the potentiality of all wisdom and knowledge, and through them of understanding.” Matthews, p. 63.
Bio: Raye Robertson is a practicing astrologer, writer, and former university English instructor. A graduate of the Faculty of Astrological Studies (U.K.), Raye focuses on mundane, collective-oriented astrology, with a particular interest in current affairs, culture and media, the astrology of generations, and public concerns such as education and health. Her articles on these topics have been featured in The Mountain Astrologer and other publications over the years. She can be contacted at her blog, Diary of a Mundane Astrologer, or by email: robertsonraye.com.